Groceries 'Unpacked': Waitrose pilots packaging-free refill offering

Waitrose & Partners has started offering packaging-free refill options for hundreds of its own-brand lines, as part of a trial to gauge consumer appetite for container reuse and plastic-free sundries.

Loose items will be priced by weight during the trial 

Loose items will be priced by weight during the trial 

Under the scheme, which is called ‘Unpacked’ and launched at the retailer’s Botley Road store in Oxford today (4 June), shoppers will be able to bring their own containers – or to buy or borrow one – for items including coffee, wine, beer, pasta, grains and cereals.

The store will additionally host a ‘pick and mix’ counter for packaging-free frozen fruit and refill options for laundry detergent and washing-up liquid, as part of a partnership with Ecover.

To complement these offerings, Waitrose & Partners has also removed the packaging from 160 fruit and vegetable lines at the store and taken the plastic wrap off its flowers and indoor plants, replacing it with a recyclable paper alternative.

Additionally, to discourage the use of plastic carrier bags, the store will allow shoppers to borrow a box in which to carry their groceries home.

Waitrose & Partners’ head of CSR Tor Harris said the move would take the retailer’s previous actions on plastic – from removing items such as black plastics and plastic-stemmed cotton buds from stores, to creating plastic-free glitter and Christmas products – “to a whole new level”.


“This test has huge potential to shape how people might shop with us in the future, so it will be fascinating to see which concepts our customers have an appetite for,” Harris said.

“We know we’re not perfect and have more to do, but we believe this is an innovative way to achieve something different.”

The pilot will run for 11 weeks, concluding on 18 August, and will be used to gather feedback on consumer responses to packaging-free shopping. Waitrose & Partners have not yet confirmed whether it has plans to extend or expand the offering.

A refill revolution?

Given that only 9% of all plastic ever made has been recycled – and with 82% of UK shoppers now stating that the amount of plastic packaging produced by companies needs to be “drastically reduced” - Waitrose & Partners is one of several big-name businesses to have launched refill and reuse models in recent months.

In January, 24 consumer goods and food and drinks firms revealed that they would support TerraCycle's new "Loop" platform, for example, whereby businesses will provide product refills while retaining ownership of their reusable packaging. Early supporters of the platform's initial launch in New York and Paris include Unilever, Procter & Gamble (P&G) and PepsiCo, with Tesco set to spearhead a UK launch this autumn. 

And in the supermarket space, the likes of Tesco, Morrisons,  Marks & Spencer (M&S) and Iceland have all recently launched or expanded ‘greengrocer’ schemes for packaging-free fresh produce. However, Waitrose & Partners claims it is the first major UK supermarket to offer loose frozen goods or to let customers borrow boxes.

Sarah George



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